Strange Vistas

Movies, anime, books, and games

Under the Sun - poster

Under the Sun is a documentary with a script. The script was assigned by the North Korean government to filmmaker Vitaly Mansky. It was meant to represent “an average day” in the life of a girl about to join the Korean Children's Union.

I love my country.

It's winter, but everybody wears a new coat. Their fluffy, white collars are spotless. It's as if they just came out of a container.

I feel happier about being North Korean already.

We eat so well. Our houses are so white and freshly painted. We should sit in our perfectly empty living rooms and have some banter about kimchi, while our black-clad handlers watch from the kitchen. Hahahaha. Haha.

When there's an activity, everybody claps for the exact prescribed number of seconds.

My dad is an engineer at an exemplary factory, where people work so hard that they strive to fill their quotas even through the multiple re-shoots of our documentary scenes. It's like their life depended on it. My mom works at an exemplary soy milk factory. When somebody gets sick, they get sent to an exemplary hospital. With its construction supervised by our glorious Kim Jong-Un, how could it be anything but?

I'm going to go out and grow a large, exemplary Kimjongilia. I am sure no harm will come to me as I live in an exemplary country and have behaved in an exemplary manner.

#documentary #northkorea #vitalymansky

Cairn from The Ritual

The Ritual (2017) is the rare horror movie that derives its tension not from carnage, or trick camera angles, or jump scares, but from good, old-fashioned knowing-your-craft and doing-your-job by everyone involved.

The set up is simple. A group of British friends go hiking in Sweden six months after the death of one of their mates. The weather is miserable, the mood morose. On the way to the lodge, one of them trips and hurts his knee, so they choose to take a shortcut through the woods. Rune-carved trees become the least-ominous discovery on their trek and they find themselves more lost than they thought.

That's all the background you need. Avoid looking for more – even IMDB photos have spoilers.

The Ritual grasps why we watch movies. They shouldn't just help kill time. For whatever long they last, be it 90 minutes or three hours, they are supposed to take over any other concerns you have in your head, to cause the world outside to cease existing. Good horror is therapeutic – you spend a scene transfixed, unsure of what the outcome will be, gorging in the events, mind racing to process them, trying to figure out escape routes, running right alongside the characters, until it's over and you realize you were holding your breath when you exhale, slowly, relaxed.

Go through that enough times and you emerge on the other end reborn.

#horror #joebarton #rafespall #arsherali #davidbruckner

Cultist from The Void

The man crashes through the door, flees into the night, manages to escape. The woman trails him. One of the pursuers shoots her in the back. As she lays on the grass, crawling, still trying to get to safety, they cover her in gasoline then set her on fire.

That's the start. You get a few minutes of peace before, less than 15 minutes in, The Void becomes flesh-rending, sanity-shattering, Whateley-impregnating unhinged.

It's revolting. It's hellish. It's The Fly and Hellraiser and The Thing and all the best Call of Cthulhu sessions, brought together by the Prince of Darkness.

It's beautiful.

A horror fan's Christmas movie.

#thevoid #horror #jeremygillespie #stevenkostanski #callofcthulhu #johncarpenter #davidcronenberg

Carla Gugino tied to a bed, viewed from above

Jessie Burlingame ends up handcuffed to a bed, keys just out of reach, not a single person for miles. Living person, at least. Her husband, the one with the bondage kink and the rape fantasy, is dead on the floor. The heart attack probably did it, but banging his forehead on the tiling didn't help. She's pretty sure he's dead, at least. There's too much blood.

This rekindling of the flame is going worse than she expected.

I'd said while writing about Before I Wake that Mike Flanagan likes his crucibles. The characters in his movies are always trapped in a situation and squirming to get out of it. Jessie is the personification of that narrative device.

On the one side of the bed, Gerald's Game is a sensational example of how to adapt a book. It tweaks details, focuses on the performers, retains the story's strengths while enhancing it with the right cinematic language.

Carla Gugino gives a protean performance as Jessie. There's little artifice she could default to, no gimmicks she can pull. She has to spend most of the movie in a single position, handcuffed in place as Jessie is. She doesn't even get a change of outfit. It's all expressions, intonation, what little body language she gets to show.

Bruce Greenwood does a great job as her husband Gerald, whose eponymous game put her in that position. He has a rakishness to him, with Greenwood looking better at sixty-two than I expect I'll ever look, but it's balanced out with a husband who still wants to care. Gerald is someone used to getting things his way, but who wants to make it work with the wife instead of going out for the hookers and mistresses he could have.

(And I'm sure does)

On the other side, there's the issue that as a faithful adaptation of Stephen King's book, it'll carry the weaknesses of the material.

For instance, what's up with her background?

We need a new term for what's going on with characters, where what used to be considered a tragic backstory is now the baseline. People have to be sadder, had to have had a worse life than you thought. A good tear-jerking story doesn't bring in as much waterworks as it used to. Their drama needs to be more dramatic.

It's so much misery inflation.

Is it not enough for a woman to be in handcuffs, ogled by a ravenous dog gone feral, dying of thirst, losing her mind and talking to both herself and her dead husband, terrified by (one would hope) hallucinatory threats?

No? Not enough?

Does she also need to have been sexually abused as a child as well?

I'd have been freaking out at the handcuffed thing myself. Maybe “being eaten alive” at most. We wouldn't need dredging up any past horrors to compound the present ones.

It's Stephen King's fault, not the movie's. There are too many echoes from his other stories, from the solar eclipse to name-dropping Cujo. He writes these things for himself now, all the stuff he's put out blending into one big gumbo pot in his head.

And then there's the inspiring, talky, tacked-on ending. King is a great tease, but when it comes to fucking, he climbs on top and writhes around for a couple of minutes before declaring he is done.

Before it gets to that duct-taped apocrypha, though, you'll get some masterful scenes. Gugino's arguments with herself are impeccable. Greenwood is the perfect bastard, released from all social constraints by death and her agonizing wife's imagination. There's a scene, as Jessie finally figures out a plan, which felt like it went on forever, me squirming on the couch, calling out “oh fuck no” several times. I exhaled when it was over. There's constant tension before and after that horrifying moment.

That's what we watch horror for, so the movie succeeds. Even if the coda feels like someone stapled it on right before release because they felt we needed to get an uplifting lesson out of the whole thing.

#mikeflanagan #stephenking #geraldsgame #carlagugino #brucegreenwood #horror #miseryinflation

Movie poster for Before I Wake

A family home, a widowed mother feeling cornered by her sister's return.

A mirror, full of ghosts, and the siblings who take it back to the house where it took their parents, trying to destroy it before it possesses someone else.

A couple alone with an adopted otherworldly moppet, bringing it back to the isolated house where their child died.

Mike Flanagan likes his crucibles.

It's not surprising. He makes movies for horror fans and crucibles make for a convenient horror setup. There wouldn't be much suspense if people could easily walk away from the problem, would it?

In Before I Wake, Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth play the Hobsons, a couple whose own kid drowned in an accident. The adoptee is Cody, an adorable, all-too-well-behaved child who you just know is hiding something – even before it the social worker talks about his string of failed adoptions. It doesn't take too long to find out what: Cody chugs energy drinks and pops caffeine pills like they're Flintstones Vitamins, trying to keep himself awake.

Strange things happen when Cody is asleep. Some of them are pleasant, colorful, things borne out of dreams. But every kid has nightmares. There be monsters.

Flanagan has a talent for tension but flounders with actors. Near the start of the movie, he shows us the Hobsons' tragedy, makes us feel the desperation of a boy who can't help himself and knows he is dying. It lasts only a few seconds, but it adds weight to the Hobsons' situation in a way that ten minutes of character discussion wouldn't – particularly considering how Jane and Bosworth phone in their performances.

Before I Wake gets the cat out of the bag right away and starts flinging it around. Characters pick up on what's up immediately. It avoids those annoying moments where you just know someone who had seen at least a couple of horror films would have saved themselves a lot of grief. Instead, it uses that same character knowledge, the normalization of the unreal, a grasp for how to play with the rules of the supernatural, to fuel one of the most uncomfortable behaviors one could expect from a grieving parent.

If only Jane didn't sleepwalk through the whole movie, or Bosworth hadn't become a discount Rachel McAdams.

At least that lets secondary players a chance to shine. Jacob Tremblay plays Cody with a light touch that's surprising in someone so young. The kid is too cute by half – he'll be playing a serial killer in no time flat. Dash Mihok, who I've seen in at least a dozen movies but never noticed, is a bundle of raw nerves and gets to deliver one of the movie's best lines (”I wouldn't say that around here. They'll fit you for slippers”).

It just doesn't come together. It's not only the leads who are to blame, though. The monster's origin feels arbitrary, its moniker something retrofitted because they felt a thriller needs some sort of revelation. It all leads to an ending that, had the actors been better, could have had the weight of two people brought together by tragedy yet managing to find a way forward.

It doesn't. The whole thing instead feels like a kludge, the tacked-on optimism half contrarianism and half pandering. Not every horror movie involving children needs to be The Babadook, but it wouldn't hurt for them to try for its single-mindedness.

#horror #mikeflanagan #thomasjane #katebosworth #annabethgish #jacobtremblay

King Kong in at dusk

Kong: Skull Island is not a remake, or a reimagining, or a reboot: it's a riff on a theme.

That's one reason why it works better than that badly-lit human-interest Godzilla, which was more like an American instalment on the usual Japanese “Godzilla vs. ...” series. Doing its own thing allows Kong to break away from the comparisons that would otherwise be flung at it.

There are a few other reasons why it works, though.

First, it does not fuck around and puts its creature front and centre, instead of keeping it hidden under bad cinematography and layers of maybe-it'll-build-expectation finger-crossing. Second – and more importantly – it doesn't try to go unnecessarily grim-dark-adult and remembers to have fun.

It's a great example of how to make a new movie on a well-known theme.

Remakes are tricky things.

Actually, attempting a good remake is a tricky thing. Most remakes are nothing but quick cash-ins on brand popularity.

Of those few remakes that work, most are their own creature.

David Cronenberg's The Fly, for instance, did not attempt to remake the original. Instead, it used the core idea – a teleporter, an insect, an experiment gone wrong – to create a different movie. Instead of making a creature feature, he made a moving story about a couple in love being separated by a revolting disease.

John Carpenter's The Thing was another case. It might be cheating, since instead of remaking the 1951 movie it actually re-adapted the source novella, and did a much better job of recapturing its spirit. Instead of having a “better” vegetable-man space vampire, The Thing reeks of isolation, alienation and questions of identity. It also gets extra points for being the first time I saw a truly alien being in a movie, instead of some big-headed-guy-in-a-suit.

Both avoid the remake problem by wandering far from the original. They also steer clear from a fundamental issue: often the only reason for a remake is to easily bleed money from brand recognition, repackaging something for a new audience. For both The Fly and The Thing, the original was thirty years old. The directors were making a movie they wanted to make, not attempting to piggy-back on their predecessors. They were making something new.

Which is the key question a remake needs to answer: would there still be a reason to watch it, even if it wasn't tied to the original?

In the case of Kong: Skull Island, the answer is absolutely yes. It works well as an adventure movie, and it would work just as well if it wasn't Kong in it but some other gigantic ape.

But with Kong being such an iconic character, could such a movie escape its shadow?

I doubt it. In fact, I suspect such an attempt would be labelled a rip-off, or an off-brand version, or a potential lawsuit.

Want to have a massive primate batting helicopters out of the sky? Better own up and call it a Kong movie.

So Kong: Skull Island owns up to its parentage but chooses to blaze its own trail. It's not about a movie crew going to an island, finding the titular ape which then gets attached to the female lead, bringing it back to civilisation, and then getting it killed. It has some superficial elements in common with the previous Kong movies, namely: the isolated island, the bunch of humans who are in over their heads, a young woman, and an oversized simian.

But for starters, there's no way you're tying up this Kong and bringing it back to chain it to some stage. He's humongous, building-sized. You couldn't fit him on a ship, much less a theatre. Then what happens once the crew encounters Kong, and how things develop, is a whole 'nother story altogether.

And how things develop is into a fun, thrilling movie, in ways I won't spoil (even if the trailers mostly did), with John C. Rilley stealing the show. His Rip van Cheech is a perfect counterpoint to Samuel L. Jackson's Kurtz... er... Packard. I hope they don't make the mistake of bringing him back for an ill-advised sequel.

Kong: Skull Island plays like a timely parable, with hard-nosed tough guys getting snotty at something they attacked first and then trying to kill it, without even trying to understand its place in the world. When you combine the theme with the gorgeous scenery – Kong is photographed (rendered?) in spectacular fashion, big as the sun – the movie acquires a strange sense of wonder. It feels like Miyazaki with guns.

There are quibbles to pick. The heavy nods to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now – down to characters named Conrad and Marlow – is one. I think all the Viet Kong references have been taken by now as well. There are some continuity goofs, like when we end up with about four times as many helicopters as there were on the ship, or day light that keeps changing color.

But they're minor things. The damned thing is fun. And it is its own creature.

Those are rare enough nowadays.

Ciao Ciao looking at a field

Ciao Ciao” is salacious and colourful and snide and – I'd be willing to bet – a bit self-deprecating.

That's not how my notes described it. I have this long spiel about it being a movie of imbalances, of saturated images and grey lives, open landscapes and closed perspectives, people craving possessions and people possessing people.

Blah blah blah. Fuck all that.

During a tipsy pre-screening introduction, writer/director Song Chuan mentioned that he's from Yunnan himself, the area where the movie is based. He said that for him, the movie was about the explosion of material desires, how life moves faster than people are used to, and what that means for them.

I can see that. There's some of it in there, sure.

It might be the propelling force, as it's Ciao Ciao's (our... um... heroine) capricious materialism that lights the long wick trailing from the small town's powder keg.

But to its credit, the movie is not finger-wagging anti-capitalistic social commentary. Looking at it now, after having heard Song Chuan's inebriated introduction at the Berlinale, it strikes me how he stressed that while he's from the same province that the movie takes place in, the movie is not about his village.

That might be a filmmaker's version of saying a theme is based on someone he knows. He heard the anecdote from a friend. His girlfriend from Canada told him.

Ciao Ciao, our shining star, our pretty lead, returns to her little nothing of a home village in rural Yunnan for no specified reason. Her mom runs a hole-in-the-wall shop. Her dad steals from her mom to buy some bullshit remedies for an injury that's never described. They both want her to marry a rich guy so that she can take care of them in their old age.

How much of a nothing hick town is it? The bullshit remedies involve drowning a river snake on something that looks like a mixture of unfiltered grain liquor and oolong tea.

It's a poor area. Some woman complains that she slaves in the fields through the year to make half as much money as her son makes in six months elsewhere.

How poor are they? Ciao Ciao smokes like an unemployed hooker, and her mom complains that the smoking is consuming all their profits.

You know you mom has it rough when she nets in a day less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes.

Cute Ciao Ciao avoids her folks, takes long walks on beautiful rice paddies and on muddy orange clay roads, gazes at the green hills and mountains with undisguised longing. She gets messages from her friend in Canton, who sends status reports about the boutique they were going to open together. She doesn't seem to be in a hurry to leave.

Kind of weird, considering how much she bitches about what a dump the town is.

Pretty cityfied girl in a small village. Earlier we met the drunken, whoring no-good son of the local alcohol brewer, who complains that prostitutes there are not clean enough. He has a tanned, trim body, and is not saddled with an overabundance of brains or sensitivity. Later Ciao Ciao runs into a hairdresser who moved to the village from Canton, who doesn't look like he has lifted anything heavier than a pair of scissors in his life, but understands what she's about. Maybe they both miss the same high-rises and clubs and throbbing streets on a Saturday night.

You don't need to be a formalist to know where that's going.

It's not the big city's fault. It wasn't what changed Ciao Ciao. Even in the village, people judge you by which cigarette brand you smoke, if you buy whores for your friends when you win at gambling, how big your party is. Everyone cares too much about things.

In such a situation, there's nothing as dangerous as someone who stops giving even a single fuck.

Slow town life makes you complacent. “Ciao Ciao” is aware of this. The movie, not the character – the latter needs a reminder. This complacency means that you let problems slide, you don't deal with things, you delay handling something you should have fixed.

Until it all blows up in your face.

Much to my own delight.

If you have a chance, watch it.

#berlinale #china

A spaceship looming over an alien structure

Peter Watts' Blindsight is one of the most pessimistic books I have read, and still I am fascinated by it. It's not just its conceptual density, where you can find more ideas in a chapter than you can find on entire other books. Or that setting, theme, and events are so intertwined you couldn't just pull one out and have the construction remain. Or that its topical range is so broad that it's the first novel I'm happy I read in a digital format, so I could easily look up concepts of biology and linguistics I wasn't familiar with.

What fascinates me about Blindsight is that it's a trojan horse of a book. Blindsight is neo-cyberpunk transhumanism disguised as a first contact novel.

It's not postcyberpunk. Postcyberpunk is characterized by an optimism, a willingness to find a middle ground between tech progress and how we handle it. It doesn't fear the mega-corps, expects that things will balance out.

That's not what Blindsight is. Blindsight is neo-cyberpunk as in neo-nazis.

Neither has any illusions about the original philosophy they are basing themselves on. They are aware of the nastiness. They embrace it, double-down on it, hone it. To them it's not a bug, it's a feature.

What else could you call a post-scarcity future where humanity lost? You have everything you could want, so the work that would have defined you has become obsolete. You have to mutilate and dehumanize yourself just to remain useful and relevant. You can't even fight the government anymore – they can make you believe you crave doing the things they want you to do. You end up becoming something other than a human. No, not “more”. It's not a power fantasy with cybernetic implants.

What you are is something else.

You are that other that the Luddites were so worried the bleeding edge would turn us into after we let it cut us up.

Yet you still have the personal disadvantages that characters in cyberpunk stories had. The unease with your new body. The social conflict from those that would rather things remain as they were. Overspecialization, knowing your specialty might soon become vestigial.

Meanwhile, most of the world has just traded a future of oppression by mega-corps for one of ennui, people reveling in their own irrelevance.

That's not even the book's point. That's just background scenery seen through the window as a few characters go on humanity's worst interplanetary road trip. Going to a place that will confirm the evolutionary cul-de-sac we've drunkenly walled ourselves into. To talk to something which will highlight that if at this point we want to get anywhere as a race, we better start grafting shit onto our brainstems.

Smart narrative choice, as it helps the characters retain some humanity. It stops them from turning into whining cybernetically-enhanced teenagers. They're not bitching about their lot in life – “woe is me, I can taste infrared”. They're showing you how they deal with it. Why they chose it.

Which doesn't stop the characters from being alien to each other. Watts doesn't need to come up with some new lingo for them to speak to make his future feel remote. These people are so strange, even humans back in their own time need Siri (the narrator) as a translator. Crew members all “subtitle” each other as they go to understand what the rest of the crew is talking about.

That they were expected to establish functional communication with the actual others they are sent to find is baffling, when they can barely talk amongst themselves.

And if it wasn't evident, it's also a transhumanist book. Not the “we'll live forever and be omnipotent by bringing nanotech to heel” masturbatory fiction we get so much of. It's transhumanism of the type we're likely to get: dirty, imperfect, full of ragged bits and things that don't quite fit together, but things we'll take anyway because maybe they'll make us more than what we were before. If nothing else, they'll make us different. When all around you humanity is collapsing into the uniform complacency of obsolescence, different is good.

(Image by Dan Ghiordanescu)

#scifi #peterwatts #books #blindsight #cyberpunk #transhumanism

Echopraxia book cover

The main problem with most trans-humanist fiction – see SOMA – is how little trans there is in it. Scratch the chrome a bit, and you find most supposedly beyond-human characters are just people whose voices have been put through a modulator to sound like an 80s digitizer.

Not so with Peter Watts. With him, even characters who are mostly human in appearance can be incomprehensible, never mind his aliens.

And still there's something in his writing that connects with me. Some thematic mental resonance, a neural backdoor through which he sneaks in.

Not always in a good way, mind you. I appreciate the world building and writing in Starfish, for example, and I can see where he's going, but he's making the trip damned unpleasant. It's like watching someone expertly and systematically break every bone in someone's body, giving the victim only enough time to stop screaming before moving on to the next one: you can appreciate the skill, but that doesn't make it enjoyable.

Or The Things, his Grendel to John Carpenter's movie, which narrates in first person the creature's perspective as it strives to survive and navigate the mess of relationships at the arctic base.

If writing is therapy, I don't want to know the issues he's dealing with.

The first one that I can say I straight up enjoyed – as opposed to using it to entertain one of the voices in my head as it watched the others squirm – was Blindsight. It's a first-contact story where a League of Extraordinarily Maladjusted Gentlemonsters are sent to the Kuiper belt to examine an alien signal. Strongly recommended for any hard science fiction fan: you won't find any light sabers or space magic here. His time is instead spent on neurology, linguistics, and the nature (and trade-offs) of consciousness. His characters can still barely pass for normal, mind you – the most human one has several voices in her head. Unlike in Starfish, Watts was now focused more on the themes at hand, instead of exploring his cast's fundamentally unpleasant nature and rapidly vanishing humanity.

From that point of view, the Blindsight follow-up Echopraxia feels sanitized. I wouldn't call it a crowd-pleaser but, at least in its narrator, readers might be able to find some remnant of normalcy that they can relate to.

It's not a direct sequel – the events from the first book are referenced, and propel some of what happens, but it won't be required reading. The story follows Daniel Brüks, stubbornly aging biologist, as he gets plucked from his Oregon desert retreat and shanghaied into a trip to the sun by a crew that's vintage Watts.

To say more would be spoilers.

It was a good read, and I was happy to get that Watts narrative scent from Blindsight lingering around again. He's still the man when it comes to hard science fiction topics. What he isn't as good at are the weak and confusing action sequences, a prose equivalent of the Bourne series' Blair-With-O-Vision fights, where the camera is so close to the flailing arms you have no idea who's punching who. Those could have used some serious editing – or being excised altogether – since there are key events that happen in the middle of the chaos, and might confuse readers.

One confused me, actually, and I was uncertain of why things had played exactly how they did. This drove me to do a quick search for Echopraxia, which lead to a IamA that Watts did on reddit around the time the book came out.

How Watts obliquely answers some questions cleared things up, but more importantly, provided a crystalline reminder of one of the problems with creative work: it's very easy to sink too much of your self-worth into your results.

There's an undercurrent of frustration on his replies coming from the book not doing better, just wandering through the mid-list, that is not hard to relate to. Watts has poured his heart and mind into making something out of nothing, into creating a baroque, layered trans-human Earth that would not have existed without his effort, and then it gets by and large ignored because more accessible books came out at about the same time.

It's not hard to see why that would make you want to throw your hands up in despair and sign whatever sell-out contract with a topical devil ends up giving you a wider audience. Craft be damned, you just want enough sales to not have to worry about how long the next one's going to take.

We're all together in this online soup, and as he says, it can be hard to draw the line between organism and environment. Now that you have direct access to your audience, you can no longer blame distribution or marketing or lack of reach and be satisfied it's not your fault. You are submerged in the same signal sea as everyone else, and you pick the bits you echo.

Imagine you are Peter Watts.

You can just swim out there, grab them by whatever lapels you can get a hand off, and ask them Why? Why isn't this doing better? I thought I did a good job. Fuck, a great one! Is there anyone out there that handled this theme better? Look at the reviews, for Christ's sake! What could I have done differently?

And then you realize it's not that the book isn't impeccable. Most of them don't give two fucks, and have not heard of you, and it doesn't matter if you had polished and perfected the confusing sequences, because they're too busy laughing at PewDiePie's antics and making his book of silly inspirational sayings a best-seller.

You'd despair of humanity if you had the snobbishness in you.

But if you cut deeper, bringing some of that clinical detachment with you, what you actually encounter is a deep sadness at the way your own brain is wired. You find easy to do things others find hard or impossible – just not massively profitable things. There are many out there who you know for a fact don't even care about their craft, merely bang out dreck or hang around a desk job, and they do better than you, because they can spot what people are willing to pay for. You rage at the mental proclivities that pushed you towards hard science fiction, when they could instead have made you want to spend the time jockeying for a chance to write the script for the next space-magic lightsaber movie.

What do you do?

Do you just stand there, all clenching fists and grinding teeth?

Or do you just collapse on the chair, shake your head, and hunker down for the next one?

#books #scifi #peterwatts #transhumanism

Soma title card

He woke up, and remembered dying. Ken MacLeod, The Stone Canal

That line stuck with me ever since I first read it. Not only it's a killer way to start a book, but it has always seemed an apt description for games.

SOMA, Frictional Games' first since their nerve-wracking Amnesia: The Dark Descent, is a worthy successor to both Amnesia and the long line of existential science fiction that begat The Stone Canal. And it starts in almost the same way.

I've been excited about it ever since I saw the Mockingbird teaser they first put out, which contains some very minor spoilers. My main fear was that SOMA would succumb to the cheap horror of Amnesia's successors like Outlast, which are nothing but a string of jump scares and gore. SOMA scales back the horror from Amnesia, instead, and replaces it with a growing, pervading sense of dread.

Much like in System Shock, another brilliant game about a lone individual wandering an abandoned, abomination-infested station, SOMA's story is not told to you directly but found among the detritus of the inhabitant's former lives. A notebook here, a drawing there, a cargo manifest, a garbled info dump, all gradually fill in the many gaps in your character's consciousness. Its universe is fully built, and the extra color provided by the universe's bric-a-brac helped keep me guessing. What's actually behind everything? How deep in are we? Am I Legend? For once, I guessed wrong. It's a nice change.

Eventually, SOMA gets to asking some questions of you, and you will be forced to provide an answer either by action or inaction. These quandaries will be more unsettling for those who haven't read much science fiction, but anyone who has will have answered them before.

Even beyond them, though, SOMA is still effective at getting an emotional response. It's less of a game and more of a well-written movie you get to play through, but if more movies were as well crafted as this, I'd be in the theater more often.

Plus, how often do you get to think of a game as Baby's first transhuman existential horror?

#soma #games #horror #transhumanism